Let's hear it for the Boys
Chris Wasser meets Neil Tennant and finds music's still always on his mind
Neil Tennant might have been under the impression that he knew all there is to know about his keyboard-playing partner in synthpop, Chris Lowe. That is, until Pet Shop Boys set up home together in Los Angeles to record their new album. "That's where I discovered that Chris is very good at ironing," laughs Tennant. "I was quite amazed. He folds it all -- it looks like it's gone to the dry cleaners. It's amazing."
So Tennant did all the cooking, yes? "Well, most of the meals were cooked in a restaurant somewhere else," laughs the 58-year-old vocalist. Lazy sod. But then, there is very little time for home-cooked meals when you're busy preparing a record. Elysium (classic Pet Shop Boys with some finely tuned hooks for a 21st-century audience) makes for album number 11. Not that Tennant is keeping score.
"We signed to EMI in 1985," he explains. "The contract was for seven albums and I remember thinking, 'Like we'll ever make seven albums'. I can assure you that Chris wouldn't know what number it is ... "
Yes, but the fans will. Last year, the British electronic duo played support to Take That on the latter's record-breaking Progress Live stadium tour. Eyebrows were initially raised. And then everyone saw the gig.
"It was very enjoyable," says Tennant. "When Take That first asked us, we turned it down. And then they came back and asked us why, and we said, 'We've never supported anyone before, and -- a really important thing -- it's in daylight'. And they said, 'Well, you're not really a support act -- you're part of the show'."
Indeed they were. That both Tennant and Lowe continue to walk a comfortable line between classic pop act and relevant music-makers is quite the achievement. A good sense of humour always helps, as the lyrics to Your Early Stuff (from Elysium) show.
"Your Early Stuff is remarks taxi drivers have made to me," says Tennant. "I always travel around London in taxis and drivers often recognise me and they'll talk to me about Pet Shop Boys and say, 'I suppose you're more or less retired now'. The whole line about 'you don't look too rough' -- someone actually said that to me. Really, I get this almost every day of my life".
All jokes aside, however, Tennant (who was once an assistant editor at Smash Hits magazine) finds it difficult to explain the group's longevity. "We don't think like that -- we don't look very far ahead and we don't look very far behind. We do what we're doing now. And we're normally doing interesting things. I mean, last year, we were in Berlin writing songs for this album, and then we toured with Take That. We played in Sydney Harbour on New Year's Eve, and then went to Los Angeles to make an album..."
Now you're just bragging. "Actually, I even impressed myself with that list there! I was thinking, 'Why do I complain so much in that case?'" he laughs. So he doesn't think about what might have been had he stuck with the music journalism?
"You know, I used to find writing very hard work," he answers. "I was reasonably good at it, but I used to hate going into an office or sitting at home with a typewriter, as it was in those days. It was like getting blood out of a stone.I think it's quite a lonely job, being a writer. What I like about what we do is it's a collaboration..."
Elysium is released on September 7